Brookstone will kick its football season off today in the inaugural Battleground Kickoff Classic at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium against Mt. Pisgah Christian.
The game, which begins at 4 p.m., is the third of three games being played during the day. The other two are Eagles Landing Christian-Mt. Paran Christian (10 a.m.) and Landmark Christian-Christian Heritage (1 p.m.).
Coming off a 6-5 season and early exit in the first round of the Class A-private playoffs, the Cougars are looking to get things started quickly this year. To do that, though, they'll have to get through one of the best teams in Class A, which went 12-1 and lost in the Class A-private semifinals last season.
Mt. Pisgah is led by senior quarterback Aaron Winchester, who has committed to play at Georgia State in college. Last year, Winchester passed for over 2,200 yards, showing another Columbus school, Pacelli, how talented he was in a 40-7 first-round win over the Vikings.
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"Yeah, he's a really good quarterback," Brookstone coach Brad Dehem said earlier this month at a high school media day. "He's got good size and can move around really well, so it's going to be important for us to stick to our assignments. It's a good challenge early in the year."
Which is what the Cougars want.
Dehem noted how quickly his team was jumping into the fray this year, saying it would be a challenge, but that it would be good to see where they were and where they need to go.
"We'll get a good idea real early," he said. "We've got some big early tests."
To meet the test, they'll be led against Mt. Pisgah by sophomore quarterback Jay Roberts and junior running backs Sam Ndem and Prather Hudson. Roberts took over the starting quarterback role midway through the 2013 season as a freshman, experiencing solid success in six games.
The Cougars were 4-1 in their last five regular season games with Roberts as the starter.
Dehem said he's looking for a more efficient passing game out of the game from Roberts, helped along by a more consistent running game.
After a down season by their standards, they are hoping early-season challenges can better prepare them for a rigorous region schedule. Dehem laughed off the idea that Region 4-A is the SEC of Class A football in Georgia, but there's no denying the difficulty.
If the Cougars can contend with Mt. Pisgah, though, there's no reason to think they can't become a player in their region.
The Classic itself was organized over the offseason in hopes of establishing a future staple around Columbus and Fort Benning. It was created with the intention of reaching into the military community.
Brookstone is the host school this year with five other Class A teams participating. In the future, other local teams will likely play host and higher classifications will be considered.
After the games today, players and coaches will hear Bobby Bowden speak at 8:30 p.m. at the St. Luke ministry center. Former Georgia Tech star Derrick Moore spoke to the teams on Friday.
Dehem said it was exciting to be a part of the Classic in its infancy.
"Yeah, there's going to be a lot of great football and great speakers," he said. "It's pretty exciting. Our guys will learn a lot from hearing Coach Bowden speak."